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Burma Related News - May 18, 2003.


BURMA RELATED NEWS - May 18, 2003.




AFP - SE Asian security at risk if Indonesian, Philippine insurgencies blow up

AFP - Tourist tower at Myanmar's Pagan to go ahead despite protest: report

VOA News - US Renews Burma Sanctions

Asian Tribune - Thailand-Myanmar to sign MOU on second bridge over River Sai

The Daily Star - Bangladesh has world's lowest teledensity: ITU

Mizzima - India, Burma to fence the border

Sunday May 18, 10:52 AM
SE Asian security at risk if Indonesian, Philippine insurgencies blow up

MANILA (AFP) - Separatist insurgencies in the Philippines and Indonesia are threatening to flare up into full scale wars that could unhinge Southeast Asian security and hinder the region's battle against terrorism, officials and analysts say.

The Indonesian military was readying aircraft, warships and troops for an assault on Aceh province even as Japan hosted last-ditch talks at the weekend to avert a return to war between Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

In the Philippines, the government has given a June 1 deadline to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim separatist group, to disavow alleged terrorist links or face the full wrath of the military.

Landmark ceasefire pacts forged to end the nearly three-decade-old battles for independence in the two countries are in tatters.

Analysts warn that full-blown war will also further internationalise the conflicts and raise the prospect of more US anti-terror troops entering Southeast Asia, to the chagrin of governments and groups opposed to foreign military presence in the region.

Andrew Tan, a security analyst at the Singapore-based Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, said Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Philippine leader Gloria Arroyo could be taking advantage of the global war on terror to end the separatist campaigns at home.

"There are nationalist right-wing elements in the Philippines and Indonesia pressing for a military solution to the conflicts, but the repercussions of such a strategy in terms of regional security and stability are enormous," he said.

He cited extensive loss of civilian lives and an influx of refugees to particularly neighbouring Malaysia as among the consequences.

Malaysia already houses hundreds of thousands of refugees from the southern Philippines who arrived during the height of the Moro rebellion in the mid-1970s. Hundreds of Aceh refugees also reside in that country.

More than 10,000 people have died in the Aceh conflict while tens of thousands of Filipinos had perished during the 25-year-old MILF rebellion.

"We hope the Indonesian government will take the necessary measures to prevent war or political tension in Aceh. Its (Indonesia's) economic and political stability is pivotal to ASEAN's well-being," Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar has said.

Aside from Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Malaysia has been acting as facilitator in peace talks between the Philippines and the MILF, but Manila last week cancelled further meetings after a series of bloody attacks by the rebels.

"We must fight back now or face greater peril in the future," Arroyo declared Saturday as she ordered selective aerial and artillery attacks on MILF hideouts.

The 12,500-strong MILF wants to set up an Islamic state in the southern third of the mainly Roman Catholic Philippine archipelago, while the 5,000-odd GAM has been fighting for independence in energy-rich Aceh in western Sumatra island.

If the conflicts, which had been largely contained of late, flared up into full blown wars, they would open the doors for greater American military presence and complicate the region's battle against terrorism, said Clarita Carlos, political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

"President George Bush has already declared that his government would hunt down terrorists no matter where they are if the governments concerned do not do enough to contain them," she noted.

"So if the conflicts blow up, they would be like midwivery to more terrorism in the region," Carlos said, blaming "lack of basic trust and goodwill" for the dual problems. "War is a failure of diplomacy."

For more than a year, US troops have been helping the Philippine military battle the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group, branded terrorists by both governments.

Carlos said Washington might train its guns on the MILF if Arroyo went ahead with her threat to brand the separatist group a terrorist organisation after the June 1 deadline.

The MILF has been linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian chapter of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Tan believed Megawati could also tag the Aceh rebels as terrorists to cut off GAM's key links in Europe although he said there are "no proven links" between GAM and al-Qaeda.

He said even if the military prevailed in an all-out conflict in Indonesia and the Philippines, "the underlying resentment against the central governments will not dissipate and will only engender more problems in the future."


Sunday May 18, 2:13 PM

Tourist tower at Myanmar's Pagan to go ahead despite protest: report

YANGON, May 18 (AFP) - Myanmar authorities have defended plans for a 60-meter (200-foot) observation tower at the ancient city of Pagan and said construction would go ahead despite concern expressed by the United Nations.

A report due Monday in the Myanmar Times citing hotels and tourism director-general U Khin Maung Latt said the tower would prevent tourists from climbing on fragile pagodas and stupas to enjoy sunset views of one of Southeast Asia's most important archaeological heritage sites.

Pagan, a historic collection of thousands of 11th and 12th century Buddhist monuments covering some 40 square kilometers in remote central Myanmar, is the nation's second most visited tourist attraction after Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon.

The tower, to be built next to a golf course in what is officially known as the Bagan Archaeological Zone, is modeled along traditional architectural lines and will be in harmony with its surroundings, U Khin Maung Latt said, and will only enhance tourism at Pagan.

The Htoo Construction Company planned to begin work on the tower "as soon as possible," U Khin Maung Latt said in the semi-official weekly.

Photographs in the official New Light of Myanmar last month showed the military government's leaders inspecting plans for the tower, a metallic cylindrical structure with a coned rooftop and an observation deck.

Construction on the Nanmying (High Palace) tower would take one year to complete, the New Light said.

Plans for the structure catering to paying tourists have alarmed preservationists at UNESCO, the United Nations cultural body, which is in protracted negotiations with Yangon to list Pagan as Myanmar's first World Heritage site.


Asia Pacific - US Renews Burma Sanctions
VOA News
17 May 2003, 18:43 UTC

President Bush has renewed sanctions against the Burmese government, saying the country is a threat to U.S. national security.

The White House issued a statement Friday, saying Mr. Bush granted a one-year extension to limits first imposed against Burma in 1997. The measures prevent U.S. direct investment in the country, which has been under military rule since 1988.

Friday's statement also accused the Burmese government of committing large-scale repression of political opponents.

The Associated Press reports the Burmese government has responded to the move with surprise, calling it "too complicated to understand."


Asian Tribune
Date : 2003-05-18
Thailand-Myanmar to sign MOU on second bridge over River Sai

Chiang Rai, May 17, (TNA): Thailand and Myanmar are to sign a memorandum of understanding on the construction of a second bridge linking the two countries over the River Sai, aimed at boosting tourism, communications and trade in the Golden Triangle region, the Chiang Rai provincial governor announced today.

Mr Narin Panichakij said that Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Gen Khin Yun, secretary-general of Myanmar?s Security and Development Council, would sign the MOU and lay the foundation stone for the bridge on Monday morning.

The new two-lane bridge, which will be built from reinforced concrete, will link Baan San Phak Hee in Mae Sai District with Baan Mae Pao in Myanmar, and is located around 2.9 kilometres from the present bridge. The total budget for constructing the bridge and upgrading approach roads will run to around Bt38 million.

Construction of the bridge, which has long been on the cards, forms part of a general plan by Thailand and Myanmar to facilitate communication, tourism and trade links between the two countries, as well as to develop towns in the border region, demonstrate good bilateral relations and stimulate the regional economy.

Mr Phachorn Sinsawat, head of the Mae Sai customs division, said that the new bridge would help ease pressure on the existing bridge, which was inconvenient for the parking of large goods vehicles.


The Daily Star - Sun. May 18, 2003
Bangladesh has world's lowest teledensity: ITU
Star Report

Bangladesh's teledensity is one of the lowest in South Asia as well as in the world, according to statistics of the International Telecomm-unication Union (ITU).
Only 0.63 of 100 people enjoyed the communication facility, the latest statistics presented at a seminar yesterday marking World Telecommunication Day 2003 showed.

The 2002 data placed Bangladesh at slot number 21st from the bottom on the list of 196 ITU member states with 0.51 teledensity, way down from the Maldives with 10.27, Sri Lanka with 4.66 and India with 3.98. Then the figures for Bhutan were 2.84, Pakistan 2.48, Nepal 1.41 and Myanmar 0.61.

Bangladesh remained only ahead of war-raged Afghanistan in the Asian region.

Globally, the US topped the list with 65.89 and United Kingdom with 58.74, Japan with 58.58, Korea with 48.86, Malaysia with 19.79 and China with 16.69 were other world leaders.

Currently Bangladesh has 9,20,000 fixed telephone lines of which 8,95,000 have been installed by the state-owned Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) and 25,000 by Sheba and the Bangladesh Rural Telecom Authority (BRTA). The number of cellular phones provided by four operators in foreign joint ventures stands at 12,64,000.

BTTB has 7,70,000 lines in urban areas where Dhaka alone has 4,56,000 lines.

The teledensity remained poor as the government allocated only a small fraction of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in telecommunications, Fazlur Rahman, former chairman of the BTTB and an official of the Association of Telecom Operators in Bangladesh (ATOB), told the seminar.

The spending pales in comparison with that of other SAARC countries, he added.

The government allocated around Tk 1,800 crore for the telecom sector in the 2002-03 fiscal while it had earned around Tk 1,580 crore from BTTB alone in the 2001-02 fiscal.

The BTTB, which went completely digital in urban area last month, still has 37.5 per cent analogue telephones in rural areas.

In Internet use, Bangladesh's position in South Asia was 2nd with 1.53 Internet user per 1,000 people against 0.21 by Myanmar, the lowest in the region.

The Maldives again topped the list with 53.76, followed by India with 15.91, Bhutan with 14.46, Sri Lanka with 10.56, Pakistan with 3.45 and Nepal with 2.64.


India, Burma to fence the border
Mizzima News

May 17, 2003:
India and Burma have decided to carry out a detailed study survey for fencing along the international border to check militancy and drug trafficking, Mizzima correspondent in India reported today.
The 1,624 kilometer-long Indo-Burma border will be fenced soon, said our reporter citing the sources in the government.
The entire Indo-Burma border has been tense for the last several years in view of the activities of militant groups and unabated drug trafficking.
Three states of the northeast India - Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur - bordering with Burma are witnessing cross-border insurgency and drug trafficking.
The percentage of drug addicts in these states is increasing at an alarming rate.
According to Indian security forces, during the last couple of years over 200 security personnel and the civilian were killed in the militancy-related violence in the northeast India.
To gear up security along the Indo-Burma border, the Assam Rifles have replaced the Border Security Force (BSF) and have been entrusted the responsibility of carrying out operations to flush out the insurgents from the region.